A clear target audience is one of the pillars of effective communications work, but it can also be one of the most challenging building blocks to pin down. Particularly when an organization’s work orbits at the national or global scale, communicators can struggle to figure out which people to talk to and how to motivate those people to action.

These days, social media platforms are invaluable tools to discover and comprehend your target audience. Two-thirds of American adults use social media, up from just 7 percent ten years ago. The people you want to reach are most likely online, and you can use social tools to better understand them—who they are, what they care about, how they access information, and how they want to make a difference. This information can help communicators craft content and campaigns that reach and resonate with your audiences.

Employ these four social media hacks to leverage the power of digital platforms and demystify your target audience so that you can create social impact.

  1. Follow the Leaders

Every target audience segment will have leaders—be they magazines, bloggers or public policy experts—that influence the audience’s interests, behaviors and actions. Once you identify your target audience, a smart communicator will follow these leaders on social media to efficiently understand how to best reach and motivate the target audience. You can start by following the media outlets, personalities and public figures that move your field forward and routinely scan their postings to mine audience-information gold.

Prichard recently completed a project to identify and follow influencers in the early childhood field in order to better understand the issues that motivate these audiences and how they are talking about them. We identified leaders across parents, policymakers and practitioners around early childhood, including MomsRising, First Five Years Fund and Nadine Burke Harris. We followed these leaders on Twitter and Facebook, scanning their conversations and content to capture information on the challenges they face, and where progress is being made. These findings can inform how to most effectively move the needle on early childhood issues by reaching and engaging these audiences on the issues that matter to them.

  1. Look at Tweetchats and Twitter Lists

Twitter has created a universe of useful tools to discover and keep tabs on your target audience: Tweetchats and Twitter lists. These tools give you a window into what your audience is talking about and how it changes over time.

Tweetchats can help you keep an eye on what topics your audience cares about and what questions they ask around those topics. Tweetchats are more popular among some audiences than others, so you will want to assess whether this tool is right for you. For instance, MomsRising hosts three weekly Tweetchats in the early childhood space—#EarlyEdChat, #WellnessWed and #FoodFri—making it easy to keep tabs on the folks that participate in these chats: parents, practitioners and educators.

A well-built Twitter list can provide a snapshot of your target audience. You can create your own list of influencers and leaders to monitor over time, but many accounts have Twitter lists that can serve as resources for you. Prichard has a social impact list promoting stories of social change, including Ashoka Changemakers and The Aspen Institute.

  1. Read What They Read

Once you start to follow the influencers and leaders on social media, pay attention to the news they post. Where do they get the news? Where do they post on social media? What topics and issues drive the coverage? What’s the angle? These questions can open up a world of knowledge around how to best reach and motivate your target audience when you have news to share.

While many leaders will post from heavy hitting media outlets like The New York Times and NPR, pay particular attention for more granular information like topical blogs and local news outlets that you can more easily build relationships with and pitch your stories to as they arise. You’ll have a greater likelihood of getting coverage in these smaller outlets, and that works just fine if the audience you want to reach reads those publications or websites.

  1. Build a Hashtag Board

Tagboard is a handy, free platform that makes it easy to monitor hashtags across social media platforms in one place. You can use this platform’s search function as a convenient tool to look up hashtag coverage of a campaign or issue relevant to your target audience, like #Crowdfunding or #BlackLivesMatter, across six platforms, including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

You can also use the tool to curate a Tagboard of posts that employ a hashtag your target audience cares about to keep you updated on key conversations and understand how they are talking around the hashtag. Particularly if your target audience is hashtag-savvy and posts across many social platforms, Tagboard can help you efficiently track what motivates your audience.

What social media tools do you use to better understand and reach your audience? Share in the comments below.